Many lawyers, doctors, and other professionals prefer to think of themselves as in business for themselves, merely using a group to provide office space, support services, and occasional camaraderie. This assumed sense of personal independence undergoes a rude awakening when a senior partner calls you into his/her office to detail for you, without your asking, how you are perceived. Some of the thoughts that may go through your head at a time like this are: "Just who the hell is he/she to be judging me?" "All that negative stuff has been coming from X, who has been talking behind my back. I knew I couldn't trust him/her." "He/She acted as if he/she thought I was pretty cool. Now the truth comes out!" "I feel dirty. I am neither as good nor as bad as they say." "Why is all this ancient stuff being drudged up and thrown in my face?" Recognize yourself in any of this? Had similar feelings? It is normal. By understanding anyone's normal self-centered and defensive reaction to being judged and realizing that your feelings are automatically programmed to respond self-protectively in such situations, you have won half the battle, because with understanding can come a modicum of control.
"…identify 5 to 10 specific components to be evaluated for each key performance standard. If one of your standards is professionalism, it must be dissected into specific, observable tasks, skills, attitudes, behaviors, and attributes that characterize what a lawyer must do to demonstrate that quality. For example, one component might be 'attention to detail': is thorough and tenacious in completing complex and multifaceted tasks; work product is neat and free of errors."
You: Well, how am I doing? Partner: What do you mean? You: You know, my work performance. Is it okay? In your opinion, am I partner material? What does the bonus situation look like this year? How much do you think I will get?Here's what you did wrong in this conversation. First, you put the partner on the spot. You did not give him/her enough time to reflectively respond to your first question before you asked the second question. As for the second question, if you have only been with the firm a few years, there may be no way of telling if you are or are not partner material. True, impressions about you have begun to form. But those impressions can and will change over time. So the first piece of advice is to avoid asking about partnerships.
You: Do you think I did okay on the Laughingbod case?I'm only asking because I respect your opinion, and your feedback can only be helpful. (Pause)Here's What You did right in this conversation.(1) You asked for advice, which flatters the potential advice giver. (2) You didn't bombard him/her with additional questions. You asked an open-ended question that gave the other person wide latitude in how to respond. (3) You got the advice giver to point out problems; but more important strategically, you got him/her to partner with you in working on the problem. You moved the advice giver into your corner as a helper/facilitator. (4) Finally, you didn't become a pain in the ass by dwelling on the subject. You moved on, allowing the supervising attorney to do the same. The above hypothetical conversation may or may not be difficult to replicate. It suggests an already comfortable relationship between supervising lawyer and associate; but a loose approximation of such a discussion can be conducted with anyone as long as you remember to keep your question simple, open-ended, and focused on a specific task or tasks. Your primary goal: Get a supervisory attorney to take some responsibility for your development. This does not mean mentoring in the classic sense of the word. You're merely asking for an occasional on-the-job critique from someone who may even busier than you; so you cannot ask for this directly, but only hope that it is offered. If it is, this person could eventually evolve into your mentor.
Partner: I thought you did okay. (Pause) You might edit your stuff a little more carefully before turning it in. You write persuasively, and I've complimented you on your citations, and you're great at meeting deadlines, but as you know, I've also pointed out some problems from time to time, not serious, you understand, but an indication that your language can use some tightening. I'll work with you on this. It was a problem I also had when I first started working here. I had to learn how the law firm did things. I might add that others have noted how well you handle the client. You're very relaxed and professional, and I've heard a lot of favorable comments.
You: Thanks. Now, about the Laughingbod Case. I next plan to…..etc.
"Success at a law firm is about human relationships," says Peter Sloan, a career development partner at Kansas City's Blackwell Sanders. Every time you meet someone new-a partner, another first-year, your secretary-smile. Introduce yourself. Take the time to ask the person a bit about him/herself. Be the kind of person people like to work with, says Sloan. "You'll lay the groundwork for the relationships you'll need to get ahead."Sloan makes smiling sound like a cynical career move, but it is more than that. It may not help you get ahead, as he assumes; but smiling can reshape your approach to work, to your fellow lawyers, and to life in general. Like physical exercise, it is necessary for a healthy existence. So look upon smiling as producing multiple benefits, some of which may be that people will like you better and be more disposed to giving you a break.
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